Thursday, June 26, 2008

On New "Old School" Art

What do I think art that paid homage to the Old School greatness of Willingham, Dee, and Trampier, but didn't slavishly attempt to reproduce their style, might look like?

How about this?


Edsan said...

I'm sorry, I am confused. What has that picture got to do with old school art?

Is it the fact it is B&W?

trollsmyth said...

The black-and-white helps, I suppose, but I hardly see that as a defining trait. There are a number of aspects that make it feel old school to me.

There's a Background
This is no grip-and-grin, no face-the-camera portrait, and there's no holding-our-weapons-aloft that is rampant in most 3e and 4e art. Through the modules, the Moldvay/Cook D&D set, and the core books of 1e, most of the art includes backgrounds, and these backgrounds tended to be detailed. See, for example, most of Trampier's and Erol Otus' work.

There's Rigorous Attention to Anatomical Details
A lot of modern gaming art is either sloppy in terms of anatomical details, or based on the exaggerations of styles like anime. In this piece, the woman is clearly realistically proportioned, as are the seagulls.

There's Rigorous Attention to Historical Details
The crossbow, the clothing, and the ship all appear to be real. They are based on real things that were really fought with, worn, and sailed. You could make them yourself (had you the skill) and they would function appropriately. There is no dungeonpunk here, where weapons have ridiculous spines or curves, clothing involves massive profusions of buckles, and the background is a vague suggestion of a boat. And while I wouldn't necessarily choose that outfit when preparing for a boarding action, it certainly functions better and makes more sense than anything Mialee ever wore.

When Trampier depicted his "Paladin in Hell", he clothed that paladin in historically accurate armour. When Erol Otus needed to draw ships, he drew on historical models. This piece shares in that tradition.

It Depicts a Moment of Decision, Rather than Action
Go here and scroll down for Matt Finch's comments on this issue.

It's Supposed to be Interior Art for an RPG with Old School Sensibilities
I haven't played the game so I can't say how well it lives up to those ideals. But the fact that "old school" is a goal means they agree with me.

- Brian

Edsan said...

Wow! That quite an exposition on the picture. I agree with most of what you said and had read Matt Finch's comment before.

To be honest the picture didn’t strike me as very old-schoolish at first because I was only looking for traits it shared in common with the genre. Not studying it as a contemporary pic and comparing it to the dugeonpunk that blights most FRPGs today.

I still have a few disagreements with your assessment of it:

There's Rigorous Attention to Historical Details:
Now, while this picture is far, far removed from the D&D-porn of Clyde Caldwell, the immaculate ribboned corset just goes a bit too far for my tastes and skirts the edge of that strand of erotica fantasy art which is clearly not old school at all.

It Depicts a Moment of Decision, Rather than Action:
This I completely disagree with. The character is looking at the distance and there is no indication of decision, no enemy ship, no coastal city aflame, etc. In fact I believe she is actually posing in a manner similar to that found on Larry Elmore’s school. Just look at her hair.

Jack Badelaire said...

Frankly, I don't see much difference between this and any one of dozens of pieces of art from Larry Elmore or Clyde Caldwell. A five minute flip through some 2nd Edition books would show plenty of art that looked just like that, albeit in color.

trollsmyth said...

Heh... Well, you asked. ;)

The corset is slightly problematic,though I think it hearkens a bit too much towards the later 2nd edition RenFest-extras. I don't get an erotica vibe from it, but that may be just me hanging out with the SCA folks too much. ;) I'd also not count an erotica vibe as being un-Old-School.

As for the posing... Maybe. The loaded weapon implies the expectation of impending action to me. Also in most of Elmore's portraiture, the babe is looking directly at you.

I'm not sure what you mean about the hair. I suppose it's based on this one? The hair doesn't have an '80s look to me. Looking at it again today, I'll admit it does have a tinge of Stephen Fabian's work from Manual of the Planes. But just because we've got wildly flowing hair doesn't mean it can't be old school.

As for what's going on in the picture, I'd place it comfortably alongside the studying wizard on page 42 and the blacksmith on page 83 of the 1e PHB.

Caldwell?!? Really? I'm not getting a Vellejo vibe from this at all. The pose feels much too organic, the outfit is nearly outlandish enough, and she's not showing nearly enough skin to be typical of Caldwell, though I suppose you might draw some similarities between this piece and this one.

However, Caldwell and Elmore share some techniques in common. Chief among these is a very sharp, very clean, very thin line. Softness is added with highly detailed shading and shadows. Mr. Fairbourn's line, by contrast, is thicker, heavier, and softer. There's a little more bleed between the shapes which gives the image the faintest hint of a haze. I will grant you that his shading is far more subtle than most of the heavier, almost wood-cut look we see in the 1e PHB and DMG. It's not too far distant from Darlene Pekul's work, though she uses stippling almost exclusively. Again, the artist who bears the closest similarity in technique is Stephen Fabian, though I imagine he's not considered old school by many folks.

- Brian

Jack Badelaire said...

As for the posing... Maybe. The loaded weapon implies the expectation of impending action to me.

"Hmmm, I'm bored. And I've got this strange pistol-gripped crossbow that is totally not historically accurate, and somehow holds the quarrel in place even though I've got it turned sideways and pointed down, but whatever. What are these? Seagulls? And me with a loaded crossbow...hmmm."

trollsmyth said...


Or maybe, "Hmm... Feeling a might peckish..." ;)

Jeff Fairbourn said...

Pardon me a chuckle of flattery--it is by no means meant to be proud or condescending. Instead, the fact that a few people would feel the urge to converse like this over a drawing of mine really strokes the ego, whether or not that is what everyone wanted to do.

I'm certainly no authority on the nature of "Old School" and "Dungeonpunk" (an interesting term!), although I do know something about the history of art from prehistoric times to the popular work of today. It seems that the discussion here addresses the latter much more than the former, so the information I can share is limited--I was greatly inspired by D&D illustrators from the late 70s and early 80s.

Regardless, thank you for the interesting read, and for the insights shared on this blog. I was sent a link to it by the person who commissioned the original piece, who ultimately had the final say on whether or not it was what he was after. And, the idea that the character in question is hunting seagulls is a notion of vast humorous value to me--Utah's state bird is the seagull, and the damned things are a real menace...

--Jeff Fairbourn

Jeff Fairbourn said...

(Good Heavens! I meant to say that the discussion addressed the "Old School vs Dungeonpunk" issue more than art history in general.) I should have proofread the darn thing...